This article has been on my mind for some time now. It aims to describe Romanian stray animals' situation in a holistic manner, describing the larger picture, not just enlarge and focus on one detail only. It really aims to explain how things work in Ploiesti and Romania generally, why there are so many homeless dogs, where do they come from, what is people's and authorities' attitude towards them, why we continue to keep on having countless dogs everywhere, what is the situation with dog catchers and city pounds, and so forth.
Yesterday we were called in one neighborhood of Ploiesti to pick up female dogs for free sterilizations. In one neighborhood only, around blocks of flats, on surrounding fields, in bus stations and factory courtyards, the animal lover who called us in counted over 100 dogs and pups! It was unbelievable even for us, who have been driving around to pick up dogs for free sterilizations for over a year now. Simply incredible sights of countless dogs and pups... Where do these dogs and pups come from? The residents explained to us that many of those dogs had been abandoned in the area. One breed female was abandoned near a block heavily pregnant, and she gave birth 2 days later. The workers of a factory told us some of the dogs in the factory courtyard had been found abandoned there as pups. Recurring stories that we hear and see over and over again. Oki, so abandonment is a super big issue here. Let's analyze it and see why it's so common!
First off, I'd say it's very common for people living in houses with courtyards to own a dog that spends all its life outside in the courtyard (not exactly a family pet, more like a guard dog living outside all its life, likely chained most of its life also...). Secondly, this owned dog is almost always entire, as it really is not embedded in local culture to have your dog sterilized; plus local vet prices for sterilizations are really deterring for most people; and then there are the old school veterinarians preaching that each female dog should be allowed to give birth at least once, veterinarians who totally disregard the principle of early neutering in an already sorely overpopulated country. Thirdly, the owned dog is also likely to roam freely in the streets whenever it has the opportunity. Result? Unwanted puppies galore. Combine this with weak animal protection legislation and authorities that in effect never punish abandonment, plus no taxes whatsoever for owners with entire dogs, and voila! The cocktail for disaster is ready.
Every year, twice a year, it truly is depressing to see countless litters of abandoned pups all over the town, on the side of the road, in factory courtyards, in school courtyards, in the forest, on empty fields. Many will die a slow, painful death from puppy diseases such as the horrible parvo. Suffering silently and dieing without ever having a name and without ever meaning anything to anyone. Others will be killed by established adult dogs from those territories, in traffic, and so forth. Some super tiny minority will be adopted, and the rest will simply grow up and replenish the homeless dog population. End result? A stray dog population that never goes down... And the bleakest estimates of stray dog numbers in Ploiesti claim up to 8,000 strays at any time! But do remember that is only the tip of the iceberg. The ones that have actually made it. Don't forget about all the pain and suffering that lies out of sight, of the exponentially many more pups that were born only to be abandoned and suffer a painful death. The least we can do for them is to remember them. They once existed, and they suffered.
Another major issue is that local people have become incredibly desensitized to stray dogs' life and suffering. Having stray dogs and pups galore in the streets is the status quo. Because of their large numbers, stray dogs are seen as pests by many people. Not as victims abandoned in the streets, with an incredible capacity to love and to suffer, and capable to become true companion dogs. The general public has stopped caring about them and seeing them as sentient beings.
Now, at 20+ years following the fall of the Communist regime, Romania is still a country in transition, a confused nation trying to find itself again. A country with people that all too often tend to deny or ignore their past, people who embrace all too readily new values while forgetting about their old ones. In some regards this is good, in some others, it's disastrous. We like to think of ourselves as a nation of Christians, a nation of highly intelligent and profound people. When I was a kid, the lyrics of a popular folklore song were like this: "Don't forget that you are Romanian, that your dad and your mom, your grandpa and grandma have always taught you to be kind." Now, tell me how does this fit with abandoning innocent pups in the streets and leaving them to a very uncertain and most often cruel fate? Or with people who shoo at sweet stray pups in the streets without looking twice at them, people who don't have a lot of money, yet eagerly pay 300 euro to buy a fancy posh breed dog coming from a puppy mill? What has happened to our Christianity, and self proclaimed kindness and inner depth? The consciousness of our very own nation is in a coma, and stray animals are victims of this.
Even worse, the average citizen does not want to see stray dogs in the streets, and totally ignores the fact that stray animal overpopulation is caused by irresponsible and remorseless people. It's people who abandon these dogs; it's people again who don't want to see dogs in the streets. A real paradox of hypocrisy. You won't see anyone yelling at a peasant coming from the countryside with a box of unwanted puppies to dump in the train station; you will see though people kicking and poisoning these same dogs. In people's perception, it's dogs' fault that they exist. Or at least, that's what people's behavior towards dogs suggests.
As I was saying, people simply don't want dogs in the streets. They say dogs are aggressive, they say they bark at night, are dirty and leave dog shit everywhere. So they call dog catchers to solve the problem, to make dogs disappear. Always, always, always, whenever dogs are removed from a territory with resources such as food and water, the place is soon replenished with other dogs, newly abandoned there, or coming from other areas with denser population. Dog catchers come again, new dogs come (or are brought in) again, and the cycle of cruelty never ends. Just many countless four-pawed victims that come and go, come and go, come and go.
Now, you'd think authorities and city pounds should do something about it... Yes, they do, but what they do has nothing to do with decency nor humanity. We're talking about a flourishing stray dog business here in Romania. In effect, authorities and city pounds don't do anything to run out of dogs on long term, they have no interest in there being no more stray dogs, as they won't be making any more money off of them. So let's see how it works. Dog catchers come to pick up dogs from one area. More often than not, the dogs taken by dog catchers simply vanish in thin air. Like they never existed. You can go looking for them at the city pound that very same day, but very often you won't find them there, and dog catchers won't give you a clue as to what happened to the dogs. But a dead dog means a lot of money to many. There are countless stories of dogs clubbed to death, injected with gas in the heart, and so forth, but the town hall pays as if that dog had been humanely put to sleep with appropriate expensive injections. The biggest winner is the company that has the monopoly in town over burning dead dog bodies, the prices they charge are ridiculous (and the weight of a dog can be easily manipulated, so a 10-kilo dead dog can easily become in papers a dog of 25 kilos, so it can bring in even more revenue for them). Even worse, in order to keep alive in state pounds the dogs taken from their neighborhoods, dog lovers secretly pay regularly protection fees to dog catchers, so the animals won't be killed while impounded. At every step of the way, the current state of affairs is full of corruption, of authorities and dog catchers thriving off of dogs and taking advantage of animal lovers; and really not doing anything to effectively end the stray animal overpopulation. Surely enough, they don't want to run out of business.
The animals that are "lucky" enough to make it to the pound alive don't have it easy either, as conditions at city pounds are absolutely appalling. Enclosures with 40+ dogs of all ages, sizes, sexes and temperaments; food being thrown to them on the ground among feces and urine; no water nor shelter in scorching summer days; not enough shelters in freezing cold winter days; no vaccines nor real veterinary care administered to the animals; no sterilizations provided to them so they continue to multiply within the enclosures; make the typical Romanian city pound a living hell. Truly, no humanity in such forsaken places.
Foreign organizations are often moved and shocked by the living conditions in Romanian city pounds. Out of compassion, they support such shelters and strive to adopt out as many dogs as possible from these places. They always forget that taking a dog out from such a shelter only makes room for another street dog to be taken there instead. There is also only that many animals they can adopt out, which truly represents an insignificant number of all the dogs taken to the shelter. Almost always, the small pretty fluffies are the ones rescued. But what about the rest, the vast majority, not as tiny and maybe physically not as beautiful?... Such organizations almost never do anything to prevent more animals from being born to end up in the streets or in local pounds. Show them an impounded dog in miserable condition and they'll do anything to save the poor soul; while entirely disregarding the countless pups that are going to be born to be abandoned in the streets; and then taken to city pounds. I am all for rescue work, don't get me wrong, BUT given the current climate and state of affairs, to focus all or most of your energy and resources on rescue work and not prevention of more births does nothing on the long run to stray animals' cause. The flow of incoming needy animals will never end this way. Focus on rescue work and you can only brace yourself for more of the same. It won't make a difference in numbers; and hence in the suffering of the stray dog population in its entirety. Pups will continue to be born, to be abandoned in the streets, to suffer painful deaths, to replenish the stray dog population, to be taken to the city pound and be a gold mine for many profiteers, and the cycle of suffering will never end.
So yes, we can talk about a stray dog iceberg from many point of view. All the suffering of the living animals we see in the streets is nothing compared to all the suffering of all the pups that were once born, suffered and died. All the cruel reality we see in city pounds is just the tip of the iceberg; we cannot and should not disregard the fact that horrible city pounds are possible precisely because we don't focus enough on education and sterilizations as means to cut down animal population. If we really want these horrible city pounds to be closed down, well then, let us focus on preventing more births, not just on rescue work. Stray animals are a societal issue proving how unbelievably and undeniably corrupt and insensitive this country has become. What we see is only a tiny portion of something exponentially bigger and more dangerous that lures underneath. Mass sterilizations and education of the population are the way to fight this corrupt system, on the long run to end the cycle of animal suffering, and render horrible city pounds simply unnecessary.
Bottom line, it's horrible, horrible, horrible to be born only to become a stray in Romania. One dog only, one city pound only, they really represent only the tip of the iceberg. The dogs are always the victims and they surely have no fault. For them and for their cause we have to fight. But we really need to address the stray dog iceberg in its entirety, not just the part we see above the waves. Otherwise, there will always be too many suffering dogs, of which very few will be actually rescued. The way I see it, we must focus on making stray dog numbers manageable through mass sterilizations of stray and owned dogs. So at the end of the day, even the rescue work will be fairer: fewer needy dogs, of which a larger percentage could be adopted out and have a good life.